Risk of confusion: student loan vs. student credit
Before we explain the different types of student loans for foreign students from non-EU countries, we would like to draw your attention to the difference in meaning between a student loan and a student credit. On the internet, some authors use these terms interchangeably, which can often lead to confusion.
A student loan is a loan that is made available specifically to students for the purpose of financing their living expenses, e.g., study costs, expenses for food, clothing, etc. It is important that the money is paid out in full. It is important to note that the money is paid out to students in instalments over a longer period of time.
A student credit, on the other hand, is a loan that is paid out in the form of a one-off total amount by a bank or other credit providers. It is not usually used to cover financial needs throughout your studies, but rather for one-off, larger expenses for which you currently have no reserves, e.g., for a new mobile phone, when moving to a new city or similar cases. The following article focuses solely on student loans.
Which student loans are students from non-EU countries eligible for?
The range of student loan providers in Germany is quite broad. But when it comes to whether students from non-EU countries can make use of them, the number of options shrinks considerably. The decisive factor for granting student loans to this group of people is their legal residence status in Germany, which is closely linked to the nationality of the applicant. In the following, we will show you which options you might be eligible for and under which conditions you can apply for a loan from the relevant providers.
Here is a list of your potential student loan options:
- BAföG (short for: Federal Training Assistance Act)
- The education loan from the Federal Office of Administration
- KfW student loan
- Student loans from the loan offices of the student unions or student services organisations
- Private foundations, e.g., E.W. Kuhlmann Foundation
- Student loans from individual banks, e.g., from Sparkasse Herford
In the further course of this article, we will shed light on important details of these loans that may be decisive for you.
As already mentioned, BAföG stands for Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz (Federal Training Assistance Act). This is a social benefit provided by the German state that is designed to enable all prospective students to study, regardless of their financial or social situation. In addition to German citizens, foreign students are also entitled to receive BAföG. However, there are strict requirements for citizens of non-EU countries. According to this law, you are only eligible for support if:
- you are a refugee, entitled to asylum or are considered to be an asylum seeker with good prospects of remaining (currently, the last point refers to students from the following countries: Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Somalia);
- you are permanently residing in Germany and at least one of your parents has German or another EU nationality
- you are permanently residing in Germany and your spouse or partner has German or another EU nationality
- at least one of your parents has lived in Germany for the last six years and has been gainfully employed for at least three of those years
- you have lived in Germany for at least five years prior to beginning your studies and have financed your living expenses yourself (= possession of a settlement permit).
As you can see, the legal requirements here are very strict and sometimes confusing. The following can be said in a nutshell: If you come to Germany for the purpose of studying and have no relation to Germany as listed above, then unfortunately you are not entitled to BAföG. However, if one of the regulations applies to you, you should contact the student services organisation to which your university belongs to find out what happens next. Normally, you will be referred to the BAföG office of your university, with whom you can discuss all further details.
The education loan from the Federal Office of Administration
This educational loan is provided by the Federal Office of Administration to finance school education or studies. Apart from German students, this loan option is available to students from non-European countries to a limited extent. As with the BAföG, there are very similar conditions under which students from non-EU countries can apply for this loan. You are entitled to it if:
- At the time of application, you are the spouse or partner of a German citizen or an EU citizen with a permanent right of residence, or
- you are the child of a German citizen or an EU citizen with a permanent right of residence, or
- you have lived in Germany for at least five years before beginning your studies and have financed your own living expenses (= possession of a settlement permit).
As in the case of BAföG, this loan option does not leave you much room for manoeuvre if you come from a non-EU country. However, if you fall under one of these criteria and decide to apply for this student loan to finance your studies, click here for more information or to apply directly for the education loan on the portal of the Federal Office of Administration.
The KfW Student Loan
The Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) is probably one of the best-known loan providers for students in Germany, so much so that the name KfW-Studienkredit has even become a generic term for this type of loan. The credit institutions that arrange the KfW Student Loan set their eligibility requirements for applicants for this loan. For students from non-EU countries, this option is only available if they are:
- family members of German or EU citizens and are registered in Germany, or
- so-called “Bildungsinländer:innen”. (This refers to foreign students who have acquired their higher education entrance qualification in Germany or at a German school abroad).
If you meet one of these two criteria and are interested in this type of student loan, follow this link to the KfW homepage. There you will find more detailed information and can apply directly online for the student loan.
Student loans from the student loan offices of the student unions
Up to this point, you have probably wondered whether you can even get a student loan in Germany if you neither have a German school-leaving certificate in your hand nor are in any kind of family relationship with German or EU citizens. But there are in fact student loans that you can get as a student from a non-EU country regardless of such restrictions. This is possible, for example, through student loans from the student or student services organisations to which your university belongs. Let’s take a look at the example of the Studentenwerk Frankfurt am Main. As the name of this type of loan suggests, you can usually apply for this loan in the last semester of your studies, whereby your nationality does not play a role in the application. However, the following is important:
- You are studying at a college/university that belongs to the corresponding network of student unions that have a loan fund. It’s best to find out about this on the website of your university or college or take a look at this directory
- you are actually in need of financial aid
- you have a person with permanent residence in Germany who can vouch for you when you apply. This person must be able to prove his or her gainful employment in Germany through proof of income.
Even if it looks formally easier to qualify for such a student loan, we definitely recommend that you enquire at the student union responsible for your university whether and under what conditions they offer such student loans. These conditions can vary from one federal state to the next: For example, the loan office of the Bavarian Student Services requires that applicants from non-EU countries have an unlimited residence or settlement permit, which can make it more difficult for you to apply. If you decide to apply for a student loan, please visit the website of the Studentenwerk to find out how to proceed. The link above offers you initial assistance, from which you can access the relevant sources of information.
As a possible alternative for you to get a student loan, it is also advisable to look for private foundations that help students by granting student loans. One such foundation is the E.W. Kuhlmann Foundation. It offers two types of funding, of which the “rolling scholarship” might interest you. To be able to apply for it, you must:
- be enrolled at a German university
- complete your studies within 24 months
- be planning to work after graduation.
In this specific case, your nationality is irrelevant, which might be different from other private providers of student loans. Nevertheless, you must first submit a preliminary application on the provider’s website before you are admitted to the actual application process. Clicking on this link will take you to the homepage of the E.W. Kuhlmann Foundation, where you can find current information about this student loan.
Student loan offers from individual banks
In addition to the options listed so far, it is also worthwhile to take a look at the student loan offers of individual banks in your city. You don’t necessarily have to have a bank account with the bank in question, but in some cases, it wouldn’t be a bad option. Note the following, however: Many German banks also arrange the KfW student loan we talked about earlier.
However, some banks also offer students their own student loans, such as Sparkasse Herford. It only depends on whether you are enrolled at a state-recognised college/university or have been accepted for a place at university. Another advantage is that such a student loan is not dependent on your income and you do not have to provide any collateral, e.g. in the form of guarantees, when applying. For more detailed information on how to apply and how to proceed, it’s best to visit the websites of the respective banks directly.
But be careful: the conditions for such student loans are often not as student-friendly as those for BAaföG or educational loans. Therefore, you should carefully check in advance how high your actual financial needs are and whether you could possibly cover them with other financing options.
As you can see, student loans in Germany offer an additional option for financing studies, even for students from non-EU countries. The range of offers is very broad, but the conditions imposed by the providers can often be very inflexible. For this reason, we advise you to look at the different options mentioned and check if one of the loans is suitable for you. In any case, we keep our fingers crossed for you so that you can master the challenge of financing your studies and start your education in Germany without any worries.
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Last update: April 19, 2021